Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace


Militarised Masculinities

Cynthia Enloe: Militarised Empires Around the World

In this article, we are sharing the show notes  of the third Episode of our Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace podcast.

Image credit: Cynthia Enloe
WILPF International Secretariat
6 March 2024

In this article, we are sharing the show notes of the third Episode of our Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace podcast.

Welcome to Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace, a podcast from WILPF, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, in which we uncover the transformative power of feminist peace and explore how men can be active proponents of achieving gender equality and peace.

Show Notes

“There is nothing automatic about becoming an adult male and soldiering. It’s a choice. And it’s a choice you don’t have to make.” – Cynthia Enloe

As militarisation is seeping more than ever into masculinities, we need to remember that this is not a ‘natural’ phenomenon, and that there are alternative choices everyone can make to fight this.

In this episode we discuss why feminism is an important framework to understand the world, what role masculinities play in the military and militarised empires, what militarised masculinities look like in the US today, and why we need to fight for feminist issues even during war.

Our guest is Professor Cynthia Enloe, a world-renowned feminist theorist and writer known for her work on gender and militarism.

Our Sources

How militarism manipulates the lives of women — an interview with feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe

“Grappling” with Feminist IR: A Conversation with Cynthia Enloe

Ep 51: Ukraine & the Narratives of War w/ Daemeah Karbeah, Cynthia Enloe, Daniel Trilling, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin; Hercules & Love Affair

Masculinity, oil, war, torture

Q&A with Cynthia Enloe, author of Twelve Feminist Lessons of War

BPR Interviews: Cynthia Enloe

“Where are the women?”: An interview with Cynthia Enloe

Episode full script

Reem Abbas: [00:00:00] Picture a soldier. Now think of a police officer. And finally, a drill sergeant. There’s a very big chance you’re imagining men for each of these. Professor Cynthia Enloe has spent a lifetime asking, where are the women in every level of society, and especially in the military? And to answer that question, she’s been looking at masculinities. Today

she joins us for a wide ranging conversation about feminist curiosity in her work, militarised empires, and the need to fight for feminist issues even during war.

Dean Peacock: Welcome to Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace, where we journey into the intersection of men, masculinity, violence, and feminist solutions to the problem of war and conflict. I’m Dean Peacock, member of the Mobilising Men [00:01:00] for Feminist Peace Initiative at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the oldest women’s peace building organisation in the world.

Reem Abbas: And I am Reem Abbas, Communications Coordinator of the MMFP programme.

Dean Peacock: Professor Cynthia Enloe is, as you’ve heard, a world renowned feminist theorist and writer known for her work on gender and militarism, and for her feminist contributions to the field of international relations. As a pioneer in the field, most of the literature we come across on militarisation cites her work.

Reem Abbas: She is now a research professor in the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment, and is affiliated with both the Political Science Department and with Women’s and Gender Studies. Professor Enloe is known for many books, but the most well known are Bananas, Beaches, and Bases; Globalisation and Militarism: Feminists Make the Link; The Curious [00:02:00] Feminist; and Nimo’s War, Emma’s War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War. In 2017, she was selected to be named on the Gender Justice Legacy Wall, installed in the International Criminal Court at The Hague. 

Dean Peacock: Cynthia, it’s a delight to have you on the show and just so you know, I have your book, 12 Feminist Lessons of War, your brand new book, sitting at the top of a large pile of books on my bedside table. And I’m really looking forward to reading it and then hopefully discussing it with you and colleagues at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. So thanks again so much for finding the time to be with us today. 

Cynthia Enloe: Thank you. It’s a treat. 

Reem Abbas: So in a previous interview, you said that when you began researching, you didn’t always focus on asking feminist questions. And you started doing that around the 1970s. And then in the 1990s, you started [00:03:00] asking feminist questions out loud when you wrote your groundbreaking book, Bananas, Beaches and Bases.

And in this book where, you know, you look at different sectors, industries and landscapes and ask a central question, where are the women? Can you first tell us about this journey and then tell us if where are the women is still a pressing question today? 

Cynthia Enloe: My work originally and my training originally was in political science, which can be quite limiting.

I mean, I found it very exciting, but it was quite limiting when you think about what political scientists don’t ask or traditionally have not asked. And I was interested in Southeast Asia. And I was particularly interested in the country of Malaysia. So Malaysia is where I first did my research. My research was on ethnic politics because a lot of people were not asking [00:04:00] ethnic politics questions in the 60s and 70s.

That seemed to really fill my plate and asking where Malays and where Tamils and where Chinese were in Malaysian political life, really was very exciting. And it led me to ask ethnic questions around the world. Of course, I was in the United States where ethnic and racial politics were very vibrant in the 1960s and 70s.

And so I was always conscious of ethnic and racial politics in the United States, but I also began to ask in India and in Philippines, but also in Canada and Belgium. I began asking about ethnic and racial politics everywhere. And I think, Reem, I think it stood me in very good stead. That is, I think it had a lasting impact on me.

So that when I [00:05:00] belatedly began to realise that I’d been studying men, because I particularly was looking at political party leaders, I was looking at police, I was looking at militaries, and I was looking at international industries, particularly tin and rubber, which are very important to Malaysian politics.

Well, I was studying men, of course. But because I didn’t have a feminist curiosity, I only saw those men in terms of their power positions and their ethnicity or race. And that was enough. I mean, I felt as though, you know, I could barely get my small head around that. And so it was only, and it’s really thanks to both friends who were becoming much more feminist than I was.

I was never anti feminist. I was just kind of dumb. I mean, I just didn’t ask gender questions. [00:06:00] But it was when friends, but also students in the late 1970s began asking me, “you seem to be studying mainly men.” I said, “Oh, really? You’re right,” that they also asked, well, in militaries and in the tin industry and in the rubber industry, where are women in those industries?

And in those political parties, in UMNO, where are women in the political parties? And I began looking, Reem. And I, you know, you’re kind of embarrassed when somebody asks you to start looking at something that you should have been looking at all along, but you just didn’t notice. But I tried not to be mainly embarrassed.

I tried to be what I really felt, which was excited. And that led to the researching. I wrote two feminist books before Bananas, Beaches and Bases. The first feminist book was called Does Khaki Become You? And that [00:07:00] was the first time. And that was after I’d spent about seven years studying race and ethnicity in militaries around the world.

And again, I was studying men without realising I was studying men. So Bananas was really my third feminist informed book. And, you know, as they say, the rest is history. I mean, meaning what happens, right? You notice this, Reem. Once you get excited about something and notice something, you cannot unnotice it.

And that’s really what began to happen to me. And so the question that I asked was a question I was asking myself. Where are women in the tin industry? Where are women in the rubber industry? Where are women in militaries? Where are women in police forces? And of course, the garment industry and the tea industry and the coffee [00:08:00] industry.

And to tell you the truth, I still ask that question. I ask, where are women in the Netanyahu government? Where are women in the Hamas organisation? Where are women in the Palestinian authority? But, also, where are women in UN peacekeeping? Where are women in the Security Council of the UN? I always ask. And I don’t ask it as the last question.

I ask it as the first question. And I usually don’t know, which is the good news. I usually ask questions that actually I don’t know the answer to. And that, it keeps you humble. It keeps you excited. And it keeps you in conversation with people who know more than you do. So the journey continues, right?

Reem Abbas: Yes, it does. It does. And we’re all asking this question over and over again. Where are [00:09:00] the women? 

Dean Peacock: Yeah, really interesting, Cynthia, to hear your reflections on that. And, you know, my very first engagement with this question of men and militarism was as a high school student here in South Africa. I became involved in what was then called the end conscription campaign, but you know, perhaps borrowing on the term you just used a little bit embarrassingly when I was involved in that work, I didn’t think about gender at all.

I didn’t think about the male socialisation that was involved in getting young white men to participate in the policing and the patrolling of the townships and the ongoing destabilisation in Angola and Mozambique and across the region that the apartheid government was involved in. And so this question of how we gradually come to a gender consciousness, and ask questions about masculinities is [00:10:00] very interesting for me to reflect on as well.

And, you know, we at WILPF in this project that we’ve been working on to counter militarised masculinities have done lots of work with our partners in 12 countries around the world. What we often experience though is people are uncertain about what the term militarised masculinities means and uncertain about how to use it.

The research literature, as you’ll know, people like Jeff Hearn and John Stoltenberg and many others have questioned whether masculinities is the best framework for us to be looking at these issues through. And whether in some ways it doesn’t obscure some of the more structural and systemic forces that you write about so eloquently in chapter three of your latest book. But I was hoping you could share with us and our listeners kind of how you understand the term [00:11:00] militarised masculinities, how you use it and the ways in which you find it useful. 

Cynthia Enloe: That’s, that’s great. And because it keeps evolving, doesn’t it? As people educate you. And it’s very interesting to hear about your own journey towards this curiosity.

I began using masculinities at all as a avenue into understanding militarism, because I was very interested in military recruiters, and I’m very interested in drill sergeants who are mostly men for most countries. And what I watched was their dependence on very narrow definitions of manliness, of being a real man.

I oftentimes think if you took away ideas about, standards of, all limited, all restricted, [00:12:00] ideas about being a man, becoming a man, if you took that away from military recruiters, and you took it away from drill sergeants, none of them would be able to do their jobs. And in fact, it became very funny in an odd kind of way, because when some militaries began needing more women, because they were running out of the men they trusted, what was really funny was to watch the recruiters and also the drill sergeants, they were at a loss. “Oh my God, we can’t tell the guy to stand up straight or to salute or to crawl under the barbed wire by saying, be a man,” because in fact, they were training women and they were kind of stumped, you know, which just reminded me of how dependent they were on manliness, the ideas about it. So, in my own [00:13:00] work, I watch other people being dependent on it. It’s not just like that I dream up, just like Reem, you and Dean don’t dream up the ideas of manliness or being a real man or masculinities, always plural. It’s that we watch it in action. And we think, well, if we don’t talk about it, we actually won’t understand hedge fund financiers. We really won’t understand so called national security experts. Experts is always in quotes. We won’t understand even anti military masculinities in peace movements. And so we, I think we use it because we watch it in action. As for militarised masculinity, it’s a very, well, what I’ve noticed is there are a lot of different kinds of militarised masculinities.

So the, the person [00:14:00] who’s the talking head on social media or the news, nightly news, who gets to be the talking head because somebody thinks he’s, he, is a national security expert. Now he’s in civilian clothes. He’s in his tie and his jacket and, you know, looking very authoritative. He’s not in a military uniform, he has no stripes on his sleeve, but he’s highly militarised in his masculinity, which is an authoritative, civilian kind of masculinity. And he is far away in his notion of manliness from the soldier who’s on the ground, in their olive drab uniforms with their M16 or Kalashnikov rifle.

So, those are 2 different kinds of masculinities that are highly masculinised. It takes, I don’t know, I haven’t ever counted, but it must be at least a dozen different kinds of militarised masculinities to make any [00:15:00] militarised state work, including militarised scientists and engineers. They don’t look like commanders at the front or infantry at the front.

They are working in labs. And yet they’re highly masculinised in the sense that their sense of manhood depends on being recognised as an expert in designing lethal weaponry. So the variety of militarised masculinities that it takes to militarise any state or any society or international relations between countries are various.

Dean Peacock: Yeah, Cynthia, so much there to pick up on, so much really, really interesting grist for our conversation. And I was struck, at least in the initial part by your discussion about recruitment, right? In this moment, [00:16:00] I imagine of some panic as drill sergeants tried to make sense of this new landscape they were navigating.

And I was reminded that today is in fact Prisoners for Peace day. And I know that because War Resisters International shared a email update today, alerting, you know, their followers to the fact that there are men and women, but I imagine particularly men around the world in places like Turkey and Russia and Ukraine, who are imprisoned right now because they have refused to fight.

 And you know, your third chapter of your book is titled, Getting Men to Fight isn’t so Easy. And so I want to explore that a little bit with you in this moment, why it’s not so easy to get men to fight. And if you could share your reflections, you talk a lot about the current context in Ukraine, and Russia, and use [00:17:00] that to illustrate the ways in which the Russian state has struggled to get men to fight.

Can you, can you share some of the insights from your chapter with us? 

Cynthia Enloe: I think a lot of military recruiters around the world, people who depend on getting just enough of the right kind of young men to join their militaries or their armed militias, builds on a false assumption, the assumption that to be manly is integral to waging violent action.

And that notion is very crucial to recruiters, but also to whole states who need large militaries. Because it says there’s no, it’s inevitable [00:18:00] that to be manly is to want to soldier. And that’s a false assumption because one of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that in fact, most militaries actually don’t have enough of the men that they think they need.

Otherwise, they wouldn’t even have recruiters. They wouldn’t have to offer benefits. They wouldn’t have to offer wives benefits. They wouldn’t have to offer housing. They wouldn’t have to offer pensions. They wouldn’t have to offer special food rations or access to health care. I mean, if, if it were true, which I believe it is not, but if it were true that becoming manly was a greased path, a greased slide into soldiering, then there’d be no need for benefits, no need for recruiters, [00:19:00] no need for big patriotic posters calling on men to join the military, because it would be automatic. And I think the fact that so many militaries don’t get the young men they need, is very good to advertise, if you will, if you pardon the expression, but to put out there that in fact, there is nothing automatic about becoming an adult male and soldiering. That it’s a choice. And it’s a choice that you don’t have to make.

And it’s not just the Putin regime, the Putin regime has had a hard time even enforcing its conscription laws. And that’s why it’s had to go to prisons and promise, not promise manhood, most of the men that they’re addressing in Russian prisons now [00:20:00] probably don’t need to be told they’re manly.

Probably whatever their criminal activities have been, have partly been driven by their wanting to prove their manliness. But what they’ve had to promise is benefits, cutting their prison time, even maybe giving them some kind of monetary compensation. But there are other governments around the world that are not able to fill their military quotas.

Currently, the U. S. Air Force, the U. S. Navy, and the U. S. Army are all failing to fulfill their monthly quotas of recruits. Which require, given the way the U. S. military is structured, about 88 percent of those monthly quotas have to be young men. And they’re not fulfilling it because U. S. economy is [00:21:00] chugging along very nicely, thank you.

There’s, there are civilian jobs that are available. And if civilian jobs are available, in the U. S., military recruiters for the U. S. military have a hard time filling their quotas. The U. S. military recruiters need high unemployment. So I think that the militarisation of masculinity is not automatic. I think governments like to pretend it’s automatic, so that it looks like soldiering is more natural than it is.

Dean Peacock: Yeah, Cynthia, so interesting. And I was just looking at the figures recently at the amount of money the US government spends on military recruitment. I was astonished. It’s 3 billion dollars a year just on recruitment. And a lot of that, of course, takes the form of sort of co opting college sports and associating the military with sports.

We’ve done some [00:22:00] work on this phenomenon that Roger Stahl and others call militainment, the collusion between the Pentagon and Hollywood. And through access to an archive in Georgetown, Roger Stahl has been able to show that literally thousands of Hollywood films have been co written with the Pentagon, particularly the war films.

 And he’s managed to gain access to the actual scripts that show the line edit that Pentagon behind the scenes producers have insisted on in order for these production houses to gain access to military equipment. So think Top Gun, think Avatar, all of these films, Roger says, you know, how would we react differently to these films if before we watched them, we saw a warning that said co produced by the Pentagon. And I think it’s another illustration of the extent to which the military has to go to socialise men and boys, but really [00:23:00] everyone into the acceptability of war and violence, and in the context of the U.S. the acceptability of U.S. empire. 

Reem Abbas: That’s very interesting. And it basically takes us to a question that I wanted to ask you about what you call militarised empire. So when you talk about militarised empire, do you feel that the recent, you know, internal struggles in leadership in the U. S. are contributing to bringing an end to the U.S. as an empire? Or as a militarised empire? And are we seeing the rise of other militarised empires? And do you feel that with this knowledge and, and, and, and, and rise of like activism against this, do we have better tools to fight back this time against militarised empires? 

Cynthia Enloe: I think there are a lot of current leaders of states who have imperial aspirations.[00:24:00] 

And I’m interested in the aspirations. Who isn’t satisfied with being an effective instrument of good governance in their own territorially defined state? Who amongst current state leaders seems to be needing to aspire to wider territorial claims? And of course, one thinks of Vladimir Putin and his dreams of recreating not just the Soviet Empire, but the Peter the Great Empire.

But you know what? So does the current leadership in Turkey. I mean, if you listen to Erdogan, the current president of Turkey, and watch some of his symbolic gestures. [00:25:00] They’re the recreation of the Ottoman Empire. That is pre Ataturk. A lot of his overseas aid programs in the Balkans are kind of driven by his own, and maybe his allies, I don’t know, dreams of recreating the Ottoman Empire.

Modi becomes really interesting to think about in those terms, especially when you think about his policies increasingly militarised in Kashmir. Xi Jinping, and his notions of whether the Uyghurs have minority rights or not, or whether they are part of a Han Chinese ethnic empire. His attitudes towards Taiwan.

And then it becomes interesting to look at voters and leaders who don’t want to recreate the empire. [00:26:00] As disappointing to feminists as the Dutch elections just were, I haven’t actually heard of any Dutch dreams of retaking Suriname or retaking Indonesia. I’ve never heard any Icelandic dreams of, I don’t know, taking the Faroe Islands or something, or taking Greenland.

So, it, I’m always interested in making sure that we all look at the alternatives to militarisation, the alternatives to militarised masculinities, and not just focus on the Erdogans and the Putins. To really underscore those adult men who do not have militarised dreams and do not have imperial dreams.

And how come they don’t? How come they think that actually coming up with a good national health care policy, [00:27:00] or an affordable housing policy, is satisfying enough and hard enough? And to make even partial success in supplying affordable housing gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. 

Reem Abbas: I have another question on U. S. Politics. In a recent interview, you noted that so long as the military continues to play such a huge role in American society, it will be very hard for women ever to gain genuine equality in American society. And you note this in the context of a democracy, you know, in many dictatorships around the world, we find that the governance structure is a political marketplace.

And sometimes a militarised marketplace where women are absent because civil, nonviolent politics are largely absent. So what does your statement on our understanding of the existence of, you know, civil [00:28:00] nonpolitics, or civil politics, sorry, uh, in the U. S. tell us about U. S. Politics in general? 

Cynthia Enloe: Well, I think, you know, Reem, I think it’s one of the reasons why some of the current social movements in the United States and their influence really are worth looking at. The Black Lives Matter movement, the Native American Indigenous movement, which is very lively in the United States.

Of course, the ongoing and very influential Women’s movement, which has caused upsets in several states that thought that the Republican party had a lock on the state. So again, I never want to make the militarised and patriarchal forces seem stronger than they are. And I think when we’re opposing them, we sometimes do [00:29:00] ourselves, but everybody and democracy a disservice by underestimating or under noticing the success of non patriarchal, non racist, non imperial forces.

So, in the United States, it’s very interesting to look at the militarisation of the American conservative and even further to the right, the right wing political forces now. They have a very ambivalent relationship to the military. And Trump does too. On the one hand, they like the idea of strength. Now, the three of us probably would think strength looks like equity, strength looks like fairness, strength looks like widespread respect and dignity.

That’s what my guess is that we would all agree that’s what [00:30:00] strength looks like. But for a lot of people on the right wing in the United States, strength looks like forcible power. On the other hand, the current right wing in the United States is not very keen on the uniformed military leadership. Less keen than, say, three Congresses ago. Because during the most recent, well, the only, Trump administration when he was president, in fact, the most senior uniformed generals refused to violate the constitution and follow Trump’s orders.

They refused to because they said they would, their first loyalty and their first actually [00:31:00] legal obligation was to follow the constitution. And if any president, in this case, Donald Trump, ordered them to do something that violated the constitution, they would not do it. And that made Trump and his supporters furious.

The second thing that the right wing in the United States now, civilian right wing in the United States now, is very ambivalent about is that the U. S. military is one of the most racially diverse institutions and American society. That doesn’t mean that the U. S. military by definition, then is a pillar of democracy, but it is much more diverse.

The, what in other countries would be called the minister of defense here called the secretary of defense, the head of the defense department is Lloyd Austin, who is [00:32:00] an African American man and the new heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are uniformed heads of services include an African American senior officer.

Well, this isn’t what the right wing has in mind when they think of the military, because they’re very suspicious of racial diversity. So, today, Reem, my guess is going into 2024, the right wing’s attitudes, I’m talking about voters and their elected representatives and their main broadcasters and funders, are quite ambivalent about the military.

They may be quite militarised in their sense of what their notion of strength is, but as to whether [00:33:00] that strength that they yearn for takes the form of this current uniformed military that is dedicated to the Constitution and is now dependent on racial and ethnic and gender diversity, not so much. 

Dean Peacock: Cynthia, I’m so intrigued by what you were just discussing, right? This ambivalence on the far right in the U. S. towards the U. S. military and it’s very, I think, perceptive to link that at least in part to the deep racism, which you quite generously described a suspicion of the far right in the U. S. And it’s interesting because, of course,

they embrace militarism, just not the formal institutional U. S. military. If we think about young men like Kyle Rittenhouse, who murdered a protester during the [00:34:00] Black Lives Matter protests in, in Ohio last year, I spend a good amount of time in Northeastern California where there are white militia galore, groups like the Oath Keepers and others, the Boogaloo Boys.

There has been, you know, just this incredible metastasisation of these far right militia groups that embrace all of the kind of accoutrements of the military, right? Even as they’re suspicious of the U. S. military now. That fabulous book, Bring the War Home, documents the links between people who’ve served in the military 

and then return to the U. S. disgruntled, a lot like the story of Adolf Hitler, with their experience in the war and double down on right wing politics and the sort of aggrieved politics that the military somehow betrayed them and that they then turned to private militia. So, you know, I think a very interesting [00:35:00] and very troubling moment in the US. And aside connected to the, the, the mention of the Boogaloo boys, there was a recent congressional report

that looked at the marketing of guns by the gun industry in the U. S. And one of the things they pointed to was the way, the deliberate ways, in which U. S. gun manufacturers were marketing to the far right. So they were marketing their weapons using far right Umattoos and insignia. And the Boogaloo boys, as I’m sure you know, wears bright Hawaiian shirts.

And so what were the gun manufacturers doing? They were marketing guns with these bright patterns on the stocks of the guns. So quite incredible to think that you know, the gun industry is shamelessly marketing their weapons to the far right. And interestingly, they’re of course, doing the same thing to the drug cartels in Mexico, marketing their guns quite deliberately, [00:36:00] so that they appeal to a particular

ideas about manhood amongst the narcotraficos. So yeah, very, very interesting and wondered if you had any thoughts in response to, to any of that. 

Cynthia Enloe: That’s so interesting, Dean, that gun manufacturers, and we should name them, you know, we’re talking about Winchester and we’re talking about Colton, we’re talking about the makers of the AR 15s.

And I mean, we should name names, right? I think I try to think about the people in the room, dreaming up ad campaigns. Now they aren’t usually the CEOs, although the CEOs may have to okay them, but these are kind of mid level people and they’re in the room and they dream up these ads. Should we make the pistols pink to sell to women?

Some real person who plays with their kids after school [00:37:00] or, you know, goes on picnics on 4th of July dreamed up the idea of making a Hawaiian gunstock graphic. And I want to know who those people are. I try not to talk about the industry. I mean, it is an industry and you have to talk about it, but I try to always think, because this is where militarisation occurs.

So, if we had to do a street theater of a gun companies, and they could be a Belgian gun company, a Brazilian gun company, South African gun company. And I want a street theater to try and recreate that advertising conversation. So, what happens when in this, our street theater, one person proposes, oh, [00:38:00] let’s put this tattoo insignia on our advertising because it will signal to at least those potential buyers that this is the gun for them.

Who else in the room in our street theater says, Hey, just a minute. Wow. That’s not, that’s not on. Yes. Maybe it’ll sell a few more guns, but you know what? It’ll make it really clear that we are a pro right wing militia company. And just in company terms, because he would then the person who says, no, no, would have to say, you know, I’m not soft on guns.

Don’t worry. I’m still want to sell as many as we can. But you know what? That’s not good for the company’s reputation. And then what happens to the conversation? Because my guess is. That that always does happen, or, and this is what militarisation is like, right? The person at the table who thinks, Oh, my God, what a [00:39:00] horrible idea that is, doesn’t say anything because they’re afraid that they’ll be seen as soft.

And if it’s the one woman in the room, she also doesn’t want to draw attention to the fact that she’s the only woman in the room. That’s also militarised masculinity imposing a silence on her because she wants to be one of the boys. I never think militarisation is automatic. 

Dean Peacock: I love the idea of the street theater reenacting those conversations and the ways in which ideas about manhood get reinforced and any opposition to sort of cold calculated militarised masculinities gets described as weakness or softness.

You talked about those people going home to their children and having to reckon with themselves. Now, [00:40:00] some of those same advertisers are marketing weapons to infants. Like literally, if you look at some of the images now, there’s this idea that you must, as the cigarette industry and the alcohol industry has done, is form an association early on

between a potential consumer and a product, and they will then use your product. And so, fortunately, that led to sufficient outrage that a number of states in the last year or two have banned gun marketing towards children. But it seems quite preposterous that that should be necessary. So yeah, this question of the marketing of manhood and militarised masculinities through the gun industry,

through this collusion between the Pentagon and the entertainment sector, the product placement of guns in video games is something we’re paying close attention to and something that we want to start making some noise about as the Women’s International League for Peace and [00:41:00] Freedom. 

Cynthia Enloe: It would be so easy for all of us to take on board the industrial incentives for marketing violent products.

And then reduce it all to capitalism. And then to have all so many of our potential allies say enough of the masculinity stuff, enough of the patriarchy stuff, that’s not really, it’s all about dollars. And I think we all have to be really alert to that dismissiveness. As if our collective work and conversation around militarised masculinities, around patriarchal inequities, as if that doesn’t matter.

As if what really matters is do you know where the money’s coming from and where it’s going. [00:42:00] That isn’t enough. It’s intersectional feminist analysis. I mean, one of the things that feminists are good at is complexity. We are amongst the least lazy people any of us know. Right? If you don’t have a feminist curiosity about inequity, then you will not be able to explain the gun industry.

Dean Peacock: Well, and certainly that’s one of the delights in talking to you, Cynthia, is the complexity that you bring. 

Reem Abbas: Yes. I mean, there’s so many things that I want to ask you, you know, and I want to ask you a little about contemporary conflicts and how it’s affecting us as WILPF, and as also part of the women’s movement or as part of the feminist movement.

The war in Ukraine, Gaza, even the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, again, has been very divisive for different reasons. And we’ve had, we have been having conversations inside our [00:43:00] organisation, inside our movement and its many sections on the issue of self defence protection, you know, in the case of Ukraine and how this challenges our perspective on militarisation.

And is it possible for our advocacy against militarisation to be guided by different perspectives? And how do we understand women’s voices that are calling for more militarisation as a means for self defence? 

Cynthia Enloe: Gosh, these, these are good. Of course, I’m not, you know, the oracle with all the answers. I mean, I puzzle about this a lot.

With the Putin aggression in Ukraine, it’s probably clearer than it is maybe in some other conflicts. What I’ve been struck by is the Ukrainian feminists. What they say to me, many of them, the Putin imperialist aggression is [00:44:00] so violent and so blatant and so aimed at citizens, at civilians, that it cannot be tolerated. It is so imperialist, it is so militarised, it is so targeted at civilians that it cannot be tolerated. And they say, but that doesn’t mean that militarised patriarchy is going to retake the civic life of Ukrainian society. So, for instance, there’s a group in, that’s based in Lviv, but is a national group called Women’s Perspectives,

Ukrainian group. And it focuses on preventing and bringing to justice perpetrators of domestic violence. [00:45:00] And they are very in favour of the self defence efforts against the Russian military’s invasion. But they say that has to go along with increasing the police and the judiciary’s seriousness about preventing and holding accountable perpetrators of domestic violence.

Now, why is that such a hard thing for some people to get their heads around? Because in the middle of many wars, pick the war you’re most worried about, and ask whether in the midst of that war, domestic violence preventers are told to stay quiet, are told to wait till later, are told “we’ve got a war on, not now.”

Later [00:46:00] is a patriarchal time zone. Because feminists who worry about misogyny or violence against women in the midst of war are always told later. And then later never comes, of course. And Ukrainian feminists have said during war is exactly the time to challenge misogyny to keep pushing against patriarchal ideas about who’s a leader and who should be leaders. And I think Ukrainian feminists have really just taught me a lot about feminist activism during a war, even a war that the general public sees as justified, because it is defence against imperial assault. But just because in Ukraine, there’s so much legitimacy behind [00:47:00] military defence doesn’t mean that feminists go home.

Dean Peacock: I’m reminded, your mention of the West Bank reminded me of a Palestinian man who’s been doing work with Palestinian men on issues related to men’s violence and masculinities, is Al-jabari, who we interviewed in a special podcast just last week. And you know, Izz has been, I think, struggling to gives voice to the struggle that he feels

of the development project of transforming masculinities without attention to the conditions of oppression that women and men find themselves in, in Palestine, occupied Palestine. And so he says, you know, yes, of course we have to challenge patriarchal norms, but it feels unfair in some ways to demand change of individual men without simultaneously demanding change of the structural conditions that [00:48:00] limit the lives of women and men in Palestine every day.

And so we’ve been struggling to hold that complexity of how do we, how do we operate within the bigger picture and expect and hope and have, you know, set the bar high as you have that men can support women involved in peace efforts, women involved in advocacy for an end to gender based violence, women involved in advocacy for women’s rights in war settings and elsewhere.

And so, perhaps as our closing question, we wanted to explore a little bit your experiences with and visions for how we might mobilise men for feminist peace? What do you think are entry points and ways in which we can do that effectively? 

Cynthia Enloe: Well, you don’t end with the easy question, do you? I think [00:49:00] that patriarchy seems to privilege so many men.

I’m sure this is your message to all the men you talk to, boys you talk to, but of course it shrinks them. That’s what patriarchy does. It shrinks their possibilities. It shrinks their imaginations. It shrinks their relationships. It shrinks their creativity. It shrinks their soul, and that’s never good.

That’s never good when you’re oppressed. It’s never good when you feel like your top dog. It’s never good when life is easy. Being shrunken in your whole amazingly human self is never a good thing. And I think hard times are exactly the times when you need as a 15 year old boy or a 36 year old [00:50:00] man, you need your whole self.

You need your full creativity. It’s when you need your full capacity. It’s when you need your full voice.

Reem Abbas: Thank you again to Cynthia Enloe for joining us for such a fruitful conversation. 

Dean Peacock: Today, I think we learned that there’s a large variety of militarised masculinities at play in order to militarise the state and the population who lives there. These include the more obvious examples of the soldiers fighting at the front through to the engineers who are desperately trying to prove their masculinities through designing lethal weapons.

Reem Abbas: We also learned that even though we see some very clear examples of militarised empires, it would be a mistake to focus all our attention on them. We should also look at the successes of the men without these militarised dreams. 

Dean Peacock: And finally, [00:51:00] Cynthia reminded us that that war and conflict, even in the case of those seen as more justified, like the one in Ukraine, shouldn’t allow us to fall into the trap of thinking that war is ever a solution.

Cynthia reminds us that our work to prevent conflict needs to start much earlier by understanding and addressing the gender norms that too easily link men, conflict and war. 

Reem Abbas: Thank you for listening to another episode of the Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace Podcast. You can find all the resources for this episode on our website and in the show notes.

Next time we will be discussing the issue of militainment, the militarisation of popular culture and the glamorisation of war. Joining us is Roger Stahl, from the University of Georgia. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss that episode. 

Dean Peacock: And if you didn’t already know, important reminder that the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has [00:52:00] a number of other podcasts.

There’s Think and Resist, conversations about feminism and peace, which is an exceptional podcast produced by our Women, Peace and Security and Disarmament teams. And on that, they explore how feminism can redefine security. It’s well worth a listen. 

Reem Abbas: If you would like to support the work of WILPF, consider reading our publications and following our social media channels, @WILPF. I am Reem Abbas. 

Dean Peacock: And I’m Dean Peacock and you’ve been listening to the podcast of Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace. See you next time.

This podcast is produced by OG Podcasts. Find out more at ogpodcasts dot co dot uk

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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